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Letter Protesting and Petitioning Termination



Letter Protesting and Petitioning Termination


A letter calling the community to attention of Oscar Shaftel's unjust termination and a call to protest/petition this action. Also brings up other professors across the area that have also been terminated for similar reasons


McCarthyism, 1950-60
Shaftel, Oscar


Shaftel, Oscar




Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives (New York, N.Y.)



Date Created



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Queens (New York, NY)


March 5, 1953
Dear fellow citizens:
We take the liberty of addressing this letter to you because what is happening in education is the concern of every thoughtful citizen, and especially those with children in the public schools and colleges. The "black silence of fear" of which Justice Douglas wrote is settling over our teachers and students as a result of attacks by private citizens, reactionary organizations, and congressional inquisitions. Queens College students have lost two of their most stimulating and respected teachers, Dr. Vera Shlakman and Dr. Oscar Shaftel, as a result of the operations of the McCarran-Jenner Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the avid help of the Board of Higher Education. All over the nation, "a highly undesirable philosophy of fear has developed on the college scene. On many campuses the professors are completely leaving out controversial issues," Dr. Carroll Newsom, Associate Commissioner of Education of New York State, said recently.

But voices are being raised in protest. Enclosed you will find a copy of Dr. Shaftel’s statement to the Jenner Committee. All citizens are the ones whom President Henry M. Wriston of Brown University is addressing: “You have today a bullying of the intellectuals of the United States which is intolerable … Whenever by slander, by innuendo, by rumor, investigators start to throw mud at the colleges, then every alumnus in every institution of the United States should rise up and say this has got to stop. Every alumnus ought to look at every investigation of colleges with a jaundiced eye and say to the man: 'What is your particular capacity to determine the intellectual
content of the modern world?'"

What is the situation that we must rise up and stop? Not one of the teachers who were called before the McCarran-Jenner or other committee and have been fired or have otherwise suffered because of their refusal to answer questions of belief and association has been charged with incompetence or impropriety in or out of the classroom. Indeed, they are acknowledged even by their enemies to have been conscientious, warm, admired teachers. How to get around this embarrassing fact, and the logical sequel that the students must suffer by the loss of such teachers? The whole matter turns into fantastic nonsense when, according to compliant "friendly" witness Professor Withers, good teaching, human warmth, and concern for students, resulting in popularity, must be considered a dangerous technique of misleading students!

Far from taking the lead in opposing the harmful invasion, as so many other college heads have done, the BEE and the college presidents have urged on the Jenner and Velde and McCarthy committees by hastily firing our teachers with the device of the "automatic" formula, Section 903 of the City Charter. Despite the doubtful legality of this procedure, on the grounds of the admitted lack of authority of the Committee in local educational affairs, and the questionable application of 903 to teachers, the Board has refused to refrain from further action until the case now pending is settled in the courts. Dr. Shaftel and the others who appeared at the hearings of
February 10 in Washington have been suspended.

We write you not on a note of complaint and despair, but with the growing feeling that a turning point has been reached. All over the nation educators, clergymen, public officials, private citizens are speaking out in defense of the teaching profession and of the basic need to keep the minds of teacher and student open and free. We enclose a small selection of such statements. Every day new such declarations appear in the papers: President de Kiewiet of the U. of Rochester, Feb. 26; former President Conant of Harvard , Jan. 26; Prof. Harold Benjamin of Peabody College, Feb, 17; Prof. John K. Norton of Teachers College, and Walter Reuther, Feb. 19.

We want you to join this chorus. First, write your ideas to the newspapers, and to Dr. Ordway Tead, Board of Higher Education1 695 Park Ave., N .Y .C., with copies to President Theobald and this committee. Second, send funds for further distribution of this letter and material, or for legal assistance, to Committee of Alumni, 33-75 165st., Flushing. Third, take advantage of Dr. Shaftel' s and Dr. Shlakman's offer to speak to you and groups of your friends on the history and implications of the current drives against free education (write to them at home or at The Teachers Center, 206 West 15 Street, New York 11, N.Y.)

We hope that such activity will help make our college once more something to be
proud of.
Sonja Bakke 150
Roy Brown '43 ('46)
Maie Croner '51
Irene Dickman '51
Evelyn Harnisch '51
Fred Jaffe '46
Betty Krom '51
Carl Krummel '49
Herman Leon '51
Joan Studer '50
Phyllis Shelley ‘45

Original Format

8.5 x 14 inches (215.9 x 355.6 mm)


Shaftel, Oscar, “Letter Protesting and Petitioning Termination,” Queens College Civil Rights Archives, accessed May 21, 2022, http://archives.qc.cuny.edu/civilrights/items/show/202.